boohoo.com v missboo.co.uk

Warren J has granted an interim injunction to Wasabi Frog restraining until trial the operation of an online clothing retailer.

Wasabi Frog has traded since 2006 as an online retailer of young women’s fashion at Boo Hoo and Boohoo.com. It also has CTMs for BOO HOO, BOOHOO.COM and BOO.

missboo.co.uk started up in September 2009 as an online retailer of women’s fashion, targetting the same demographic: 17 to 25 year olds.

His Lordship found a triable issue on likelihood of confusion on the basis of a number of factors. One involved another player in the fashion industry apparently mistaking the applicant for the defendant.

Interestingly, another was the inferences to be drawn by traffic that Wasabi Frog generated after purchasing the Google Ad Words “Miss Boo”. Other aspects considered included the similarities in the respective companies’ websites and the “very very savvy” target markets of both companies.

Damages were clearly not an adequate remedy for Wasabi Frog, all the more so as the defendant was impecunious.

Wasabi Frog Ltd v Miss Boo Ltd [2009] EWHC 2767 (Ch)

Lid dip: Peter A Clarke

Costs, (no damages) and IP cases

The Full Federal Court (Finn, Sundberg and Edmonds JJ) has clarified how FCR O62 r 36A operates in IP infringement cases.

FCR O62 r36A provides that the costs of a successful applicant which obtains an order for damages less than $100,000 will be reduced by one third, unless the Court otherwise orders.

Nokia had sued Liu for trade mark infringement arising from a customs seizure. The proceedings settled by consent, with injunctions and delivery up. Nokia pursued damages, but obtained only nominal damages as it was unable to obtain discovery of importation in significant quantities. The trial judge refused to allow Nokia any costs of the damages inquiry.

The Full Federal Court has allowed an appeal, awarding Nokia its (taxed) costs up to the consent judgment and completion of discovery about damages; thereafter costs were at the reduced rate.

The Full Court considered that costs of the trial up to and including the consent orders should be at the usual taxed rate, without the 1/3 reduction because it was common in IP cases for trials to be split – a trial on liability and (if successful) an injunction and a subsequent trial about damages (or an account) and  applicants were required to particularise only a single instance of infringement. The Full Court considered the remedy of injunction “indispensable”. It was also appropriate for the proceedings to be brought in one of the “prescribed courts”, customarily the Federal Court and it was not apparent that it would have been sensible for the matter to be referred down to the Federal Magistrates Court (unlike in copyright proceedings where the Federal Magistrates Court has direct jurisdiction).

Nokia was also entitled to costs of the damages inquiry at least until completion of discovery as it was legitimate and, until it had discovery, it could not have known of the futility. Once discovery was completed, it knew the risks it was running and, given the amount recovered, it was inappropriate to exercise the discretion not to limit the costs of that part of the proceeding by 1/3.

Nokia Corporation v Liu [2009] FCAFC 138

Selected microblog posts for week ending 21/8/09


Sea-horse shaped chocolate not a trade mark

Having secured an International Registration, Guylain tried to register a chocolate in this shape

as a trade mark in Australia through the Madrid Protocol (TM App 936483).

Sundberg J, on appeal from the Registrar’s refusal, has also rejected it as incapable of distinguishing Guylain’s goods (pralines and chocolate, to be precise) under s 41.

Not inherently adapted — enough

First, Sundberg J was satisfied that the sea-horse shaped chocolate was inherently adapted to distinguish to some extent, but not enough to be distinctive.

Guylain argued:

31. its shape is a “fanciful stylised” representation of a seahorse, which “depart[s] radically from the shape of seahorses found in nature”. The departure, it says, arises from two particular features of its chocolate shape:
(a) the tail that wraps up behind the spine of the creature, rather than forwards; and
(b) the solid and “chunky” appearance, as opposed to the more slender and elongate shape of a real seahorse.

31. … its shape is a “fanciful stylised” representation of a seahorse, which “depart[s] radically from the shape of seahorses found in nature”. The departure, it says, arises from two particular features of its chocolate shape:

(a) the tail that wraps up behind the spine of the creature, rather than forwards; and

(b) the solid and “chunky” appearance, as opposed to the more slender and elongate shape of a real seahorse. (my emphasis)

Accepting this to some extent, Sundberg J considered nonetheless:

[77] …. there is a danger that first impressions will be sidelined when an analysis of a shape’s individual components or features is undertaken. In this case, the immediate impression one has of the mark in suit is of an ordinary seahorse. I would not expect most ordinary consumers to know that the tails of seahorses do not curl backwards, only forwards. I think most would know that seahorses have a tail and expect that they curl up in some direction. Accepting that the tail and the stocky appearance might, to a studious observer, appear unusual, I consider on balance that the average consumer would see it as a relatively ordinary representation of a seahorse. The possibility for confusion therefore between Guylian’s shape and any other seahorse shapes is, I think, a real one. (my emphasis)

Test this for yourself: do you think either of these would be deceptively similar to Guylain’s shape (if it were registered)?

To those who might wonder who on Earth would want to sell a chocolate in a sea-horse shape if it hadn’t been for Guylain’s success, Sundberg J had earlier explained:

71   … In my view, it is quite possible that as at the priority date other traders might want to depict a seahorse, along with starfish, crabs, prawns for example, in a way that is similar enough to cause potential confusion in the minds of consumers. …. [after noting that no-one in Australia was in fact selling sea-horse shaped chocolates at the priority date, his Honour continued] ….  It might be thought that that fact, together with the fact that Guylian had been selling its seahorse shape in Australia for a long time (since the 1980s), would diminish the likelihood that, as at 2002, other legitimately motivated traders might in the ordinary course of their business wish to sell seahorse chocolate shapes. However, the absence of other seahorses on the market does not in my view mean it was unlikely that others may in the future wish to depict that particular sea creature. (His Honour’s emphasis)

Not qualified under s 41(5) either

Guylain has been selling its sea-horse shaped chocolates in Australia since 1980 as part of its sea shells range. In recent years, reatail sales of the sea shells range had exceeded tens of millions of dollars each year and millions of dollars were spent each year on advertising and promotion. The sea-horse shaped chocolate was not sold by itself, however. There seem to have been some rather small sales of sea-horse shaped chocolates by other brands, at various points, although they seem to have been after the priority date.

Nonetheless, survey evidence before the Court showed that 40% of the sample identified the sea-horse shaped chocolates as coming from Guylain, unprompted. Conversely, all the other brands mentioned accounted for only 13% of the sample; the highest of these, Lindt, reached 1.7% and no other brand reached 1%.

Given that level of association, why wasn’t the sea-horse shape distinctive of Guylain?

Because, following Woolworths v BP (No 2), the association must be shown to have arisen from use of the sea-horse as a trade mark, not just use. His Honour quoted with approval from Jacob LJ’s explanation of the distinction in the Vienetta case:

There is a bit of sleight of hand going on here and in other cases of this sort. The trick works like this. The manufacturer sells and advertises his product widely and under a well-known trade mark. After some while the product appearance becomes well-known. He then says the appearance alone will serve as a trade mark, even though he himself never relied on the appearance alone to designate origin and would not dare to do so. He then gets registration of the shape alone. Now he is in a position to stop other parties, using their own word trade marks, from selling the product, even though no-one is deceived or misled.

As in that case, his Honour found that Guylain had not in fact used its sea-horse shape as a trade mark and the public would not have understood it as being used in that way. For example, his Honour found that this wasn’t use of the sea-horse shape as a trade mark:

The fact that other traders, such as Darrell Lea, sold sea-horse shaped products in boxes with their own brands on them contributed to this conclusion, as did the prominence of the Guylain and, in many case, a stylised ‘G’ on the packaging. Sales of Guylain’s sea shell range in sea-horse shaped boxes didn’t help either as the evidence did not suggest the sales were particularly significant.

The presumption of registrability

Sundberg J also addressed the “presumption of registrability” wars, which his Honour broke down into 2 parts.

First, his Honour explained that s 33 requires that the trade mark be registered unless the Registrar is satisfied that a ground of rejection exists. Thus, in the case, of the distinctiveness inquiry under s 41, the trade mark must be registered unless the Registrar is satisfied that the trade mark is not sufficiently inherently adapted to distinguish as to be capable of distinguishing. If the Registrar was satisfied that the trade mark had insufficient inherent adaptation, the words of s 41(5) and 41(6) plainly imposed the onus on the applicant to satisfy the Registrar that the trade mark had in fact become distinctive (s 41(6)) or otherwise did have the necessary capacity. See [21]. The wonders of plain English drafting!

Secondly, Sundberg J joined the gang (so far comprising Finkelstein and Gyles JJ) rejecting any standard other than the Registrar being satisfied on the balance of probabilities.

The role of the Registrar

Somewhat unusually, the Registrar went to the lengths of filing evidence about other uses of sea-horse shaped chocolate. Those practitioners who have seen their valiant efforts in scrambling around the internet to assemble evidence snidely dismissed will note that the Registrar was reduced to much the same course.

Interestingly, Sundberg J noted:

54. …. Although differing as to the weight such evidence should be given, the parties also appeared to accept more generally that evidence of events taking place after the priority date, whether that be the applicant’s use of the mark itself or use of other similar or otherwise relevant shapes by rival traders, may be relevant to whether the seahorse shape is capable of distinguishing Guylian’s goods. This was an appropriate course to take. In my view, evidence of what other traders were selling prior to, at or subsequent to the priority date has the ability to rationally affect, albeit with varying degrees of weight, the conclusion one might reach about the extent to which a mark is inherently adapted to distinguish under s 41(3) of the Act. ….

Chocolaterie Guylian N.V. v Registrar of Trade Marks [2009] FCA 891

Recent microblog (twitter) posts

Following in the footsteps of Marty Schwimmer and Dennis Kennedy, I shall try a weekly post aggregating selected IP “tweets”. If you’re keen on greater currency, my tweets also show up as they’re made in a side bar on the website.

  • RT @priorsmart: RT @ernestgrumbles Is the Fed. Circuit pro-patent? Maybe Not http://bit.ly/Kd9gR (empirical study of decisions)
  • RT @dhowell: RT @entlawupdate How the RealDVD ruling could reshape copyright law http://bit.ly/2sud8B
  • RT @dhowell: Kaleidescape loses; DVD copying falls again (@sandocnet; h/t @HScottLeviant) http://ff.im/-6wPw7
  • RT @DuetsBlog: Branding strategy To Google or Not to Google http://ow.ly/jGvG
  • Working up a theme here? RT @asilverstein: The risks of modernizing a trademark http://bit.ly/h3FkN
  • Patently-O analyses Bilski’s Patent Application http://ff.im/-6tlCF
  • Patry is back: Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars: Are There Any Lessons in the P2P Trials? http://ff.im/-6rp7B
  • AmeriKat looks at the briefs in the Catcher in the Rye appeal http://ff.im/-6roVs
  • RT @priorsmart: RT @ernestgrumbles Is the Fed. Circuit pro-patent? Maybe Not http://bit.ly/Kd9gR (empirical study of decisions)

Let me know if you think this is a worthwhile exercise or not.

If you’re a twitterer, you can find me at @wrothnie

Parallel imports and UPC codes

Marty (The Trademark Blog) extracts from the 11th Circuit’s ruling in Davidoff v CVS, where the parallel importer was found liable for infringement by removing the UPC codes (which, of course, are not put there to detect parallel import leaks, but in case of product recall requirements).

He appends the text of the decision.

Off the top of my head, I don’t think that argument would help Davidoff down here as s 123 operates on consent in respect of ‘similar goods’. The 1994 Act, which never came into force and was repealed by the 1995 Act did make an attempt to deal with quality issues in s , but that ultimately fell be the wayside.

What chance of arguing misleading or deceptive conduct under s 52?

Unfair competition in EU

According to the IPKat, the ECJ has introduced an EU-wide law of unfair competition/tarnishment for registered trade marks in L’Oreal v Bellure.

Read more

Patent and Trade Mark procedures in the Office

IP Australia has released 3 further consultation papers on “IP Rights Reforms”:

  • resolving divisional applications faster
  • resolving patent oppositions faster
  • resolving trade mark oppositions faster

Submissions are sought by 17 August 2009.

Download the papers (pdf or .doc) from here.

There are also links to the earlier papers on ‘Getting the Balance Right’ and ‘Exemptions to Patent Infringement’.

The value of descriptive ‘trade marks’?

Lea Lewin looks at why Virgin lost its opposition (in the Office) to Qantas‘ attempt to register

ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, LOW FARES

in the face of Virgin’s ‘trade mark’ for:

EVERY DAY LOW FARES

Unfortunately, Virgin’s ‘trade mark’ doesn’t exactly leap off its website (or the evidence it filed).

Given Qantas is on the verge of registration (and apparently using its ‘mark’ through Jetstar), I can see why Virgin would want one too. Duets looks at some reasons from a US perspective and some other things to think about.

But, surely the real question here, is how can any trade mark system allow anyone to register either (purely descriptive) ‘mark’?

Google’s trade mark policy

Yesterday (in the USA) Google’s new trade mark policy and complaint procedure came into force.

All the details here.

Australia is still in the regions where both text and keywords are monitored.

Lid dip @TrademarkBlog (aka Marty Schwimmer)